Anxious congressional Democrats are threatening to abandon President Obama on a central element of his signature health care law, voicing increasing support for proposals that would allow Americans who are losing their health insurance coverage because of the Affordable Care Act to retain it. [...] In a closed-door meeting Wednesday of House Democrats and White House officials, tensions flared as several lawmakers upbraided the administration, saying that the president had put Democrats in a tough political position by wrongly promising consumers that they could keep their existing health care plans.
A month ago, Democrats were united, pushing back against Republican extremism, and capitalizing on the GOP's disastrous government-shutdown scheme. A lot has happened in a month.
Indeed, as things currently stand, Democrats haven't been quite this divided since before the 2010 midterms, splintered by problems plaguing the rollout of the Affordable Care Act and the associated controversies.
A related meeting for Senate Democrats is scheduled for today. It's a safe bet that "tensions" will "flare" there, too.
The question, of course, is what congressional Dems are likely to do about their frustrations. Politico reported overnight on the broader Democratic perspective: "Voters are uncomfortable with the ACA, but private polling shows they are receptive to a 'mend it, don't end it' message. If Democratic House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates can show they want to fix the law proactively, the party believes voters will forgive some bungling by the administration."
But fixing the law proactively isn't nearly as simple as it may sound. In the broadest possible sense, there are two main problems with implementation of the law: the website and the sliver of the population poised to change plans, involuntarily, due to reforms of the individual, non-group market.
There's obviously very little Congress can do about healthcare.gov. If the administration's efforts to get the site back on track by the end of the month are successful, tensions will ease, enrollment will improve, and the larger controversy will subside. If not, divisions will deepen, panic will set in, and the political controversy will intensify greatly.
But the "if you like your plan you can keep your plan" problem is something else entirely: it's an issue Congress can (and will) try to address.
In the House, that means Rep. Fred Upton's (R-Mich.) "Keep Your Health Plan Act." It's a damaging proposal, and just yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) admitted to his members that the measure is intended to further sabotage the federal health care system. Democrats know this, but may vote for it anyway -- they want to show that they're willing to do something and if Upton's bill is the only game in town, many House Dems are afraid not to support it.
Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) put it this way: "I think the Upton bill is terrible, but we need something else to vote for in order to keep our word to the American people."
In the Senate, meanwhile, there's Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-La.) alternative, "Keeping the Affordable Care Act Promise Act," which has already garnered the support of several Senate Dems -- some centrists and some progressive.
What's the difference between the two proposals? As Sahil Kapur reported, Landrieu's bill "mandates that insurers continue individual market policies in effect as of Dec. 31, 2013 for as long as the carrier is operating in the market and the policyholder is paying premiums and meeting eligibility requirements. In short, insurers would not be permitted to cancel policies that failed to meet Obamacare's minimum standard for essential health benefits." This is more ambitious that Upton's House GOP bill, which would allow insurers to continue policies -- Landrieu and her co-sponsors would make the extensions mandatory.
If the House Republicans' bill has the potential to undermine the integrity of the Affordable Care Act, and is arguably part of the GOP's larger repeal crusade, wouldn't Landrieu's proposal be just as bad? The Louisiana Democrat and her allies insist it wouldn't, but plenty of experts in health care policy believe the bill could do real harm to the law.
So, with this in mind, here are some angles to keep in mind:
* When the House bill comes to the floor tomorrow, how many Dems will break ranks and support it? Enough to give the bill a veto-proof majority? Will the White House give House Dems an alternative policy to rally behind instead before the vote?
* Will Senate Democratic leaders even bring Landrieu's bill to the floor for a vote? They may not, at least not soon, though if support among Dems grows, leaders may feel as if they have no choice.
* If there are competing proposals, could the House tolerate Landrieu's Senate bill? Upton suggested yesterday he could, but plenty of Republicans don't like the idea of "fixing Obamacare" by letting a vulnerable red-state Democrat save the day.
* Won't Obama just veto any proposal that undermines the law? Probably yes, but that's where veto-proof votes become that much more important.
* Is the debate a moot point? Politico reported yesterday, "Insurance industry sources say that it's likely too late to undo the cancellation notices that already have gone out, meaning the Upton bill is unlikely to actually restore coverage." If the moment has already come and gone, is all of this just about posturing?